Does it matter where you go to college? In a New York Times’ Room for Debate discussion, Kevin Carey, policy director for Education Sector, argues that most students should skip the admissions game and start their higher education at a high-quality community college. After all, only the top students have any chance of attending an elite college, Carey points out. Four out of five students attend colleges that are easy to get into and not well resourced. Some do a much better job than others of teaching students and getting them to a degree.
The good news is that a lot of information has become available over the last 10 years that sheds new light on the quality of non-elite colleges. The Community College Survey of Student Engagement, for example, identifies public two-year institutions that are unusually good at employing the teaching practices that research show lead to learning and graduation. Most community colleges participate and you can look up the results at www.ccsse.org.
It turns out that the best community colleges do a better job than the average elite research university at teaching freshman and sophomores.
To a great extent, success or failure in college depends on the student’s academic preparation, motivation and ability to make college a priority. College-ready, full-time students are likely to do well. Poorly prepared students, especially those with job and family responsibilities, are not. I think the risk of failure is higher at community college, but the costs are much lower.